White Bear Lake doc deals with more than water level

A few years ago, Amy Okaya, a data science researcher and technical writer with a background in public health, was trying to think about “what issue would be important to work on. I really landed on water.”

Amy Okaya

The result was the unveiling on YouTube this week of a measured, 27-minute documentary video called “Where is the Water in White Bear Lake.”

It’s a look, not just at the disappointed neighbors and business operators who have seen lake levels drop significantly, but more importantly at the larger lessons for water users everywhere.

Okaya steers away from the politics and legal challenges swirling around the shrunken lake, although she cites the U.S. Geological Survey study attributing the lake’s lower levels to steady groundwater pumping in the region.

If there’s a message she wanted to get across, she said in a telephone interview, it’s the need for an emphasis on water conservation. You get a clear sense of how years of growth, groundwater pumping and high consumption are leading down a path that isn’t sustainable.

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It’s not just about White Bear Lake.

At one point in the film, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources manager Jeanette Leete says, “The only real way to change the situation is to change how people behave when they use water. “We’re going to pack some 2 million more people into this general area and if we don’t change how many gallons per day a person uses, we’re not on a very good trajectory.”

The closing is poignant, a series of views of big water towers — Lino Lakes, Hugo, White Bear Township, Centerville — interspersed with the big suburban houses and fresh commercial developments they supply.

Okaya, who has lived in White Bear Township for years, got support for the film from the Ramsey/Washington Counties Suburban Cable Commision. It took her two years to complete, she said. “It was part of that ‘think globally, act locally’ thing.”

She’s thinking ahead to her next water film.